Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for Big Ben to chime at the Brexit Hour, saying Britons can fund it if they “bung a bob for a Big Ben bong”.
The Palace of Westminster’s Queen Elizabeth Tower, which houses Big Ben, has been under refurbishment since 2017 and the chimes have only rung out on a few occasions since then.
An attempt by Brexiteer MPs to attach an amendment to Brexit legislation to ensure that Big Ben rings out to mark the moment the United Kingdom officially leaves the EU — 11 p.m. on January 31st, 2020 — was thwarted when the motion was dismissed last week.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast on Tuesday, the prime minister said: “We’re working up a plan so people can bung a bob for a Big Ben bong, because there are some people who want to.
“Because Big Ben is being refurbished, they seemed to have taken the clapper away, so we need to restore the clapper in order to bong Big Ben on Brexit night.
“That is expensive, so we’re looking at whether people might fund it.”
Mr Johnson said that installing the temporary “clapper” — the device recently used to mark Remembrance Sunday and New Year’s Eve — could cost £500,000. The cost includes restoring the clapper, installing a temporary floor in the belfry, testing, ringing, and the knock-on costs of delaying conservation works.
Hopes for Big Ben Bonging on Brexit Day Dashed https://t.co/wjGFvIXQYs
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) January 8, 2020
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage questioned the veracity of the House of Commons Commission’s estimates on the cost, asking in an article for The Telegraph: “Really? It tolled on New Year’s Eve, on Remembrance Sunday and on Armistice Day. Did this cost £500,000 on each occasion? I would love to know the answer.”
Mr Farage noted that Lord Ashcroft has offered to underwrite the plans, requesting: “Come on, Boris. Announce that Big Ben will chime. And then appear on stage in Parliament Square as Prime Minister to mark this extraordinary date. Let the bells ring out for Brexit!”
A spokesman for 10 Downing Street told the BBC: “If the public wants Big Ben to bong and the money is raised, then that is great.
“We will make sure that — whatever happens in regard to Big Ben’s bongs — January 31 is properly marked. It is a significant moment in our history.”
Farage Plans £100,000 Brexit Celebration Party in London for Jan 31st https://t.co/yfxm8XlmdZ
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) January 4, 2020
Meanwhile, Leave campaigners have called for church bells to peal on February 1st — to mark “the first morning of our independence” from the EU in 47 years.
“Just as we did to mark the Allies’ victory in Europe in 1945, we’re calling on patriots to ring the bell of their local church at 9 a.m. on Saturday, February 1, to celebrate Britain’s new-found independence,” campaign group Leave.EU said.
However, The Times reports that a number of clergy members are against the idea, claiming that to do so would be “divisive” — despite the liberal Archbishop of Canterbury having been happy to weigh in against Brexit on numerous occasions.
The Central Council of Church Bell Ringers also said it did not support ringing the bells on the first day of independence, claiming it would be “political” to do so.
“There are historical moments for which bells have been rung, [the] end of world wars for example. However, the central council, as a principle, does not endorse bellringing for political reasons,” they said.
Mr Farage is organising a street party in Parliament Square on January 31st, with more than 10,000 people expected to attend.
Interim leader of the Liberal Democrats — which campaigned during the December 2019 election to cancel Brexit altogether — Ed Davey has complained that the Brexiteer should not be allowed to organise the party, claiming it would not be “unifying”.
Nigel Farage ‘Won't Take a Penny’ of £153,000 MEP Severance Pay https://t.co/d6LjxG5YX9
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) January 15, 2020